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Kell Brook: Ready for the big time

March 20, 2012 Leave a comment

With the possible exception of Amir Khan, Kell Brook is the most talented fighter of his generation in Britain and now, after 27 fights and 27 wins, he is ready to prove himself on the world stage.

On Saturday night (17th March), the 25 year old welterweight from Sheffield faced what was supposed to be the toughest fight of his career when he took on Manchester’s Matthew Hatton in a fight dubbed ‘The War of the Roses.’ Hatton was coming off a recent valiant showing against WBC light-middleweight champion and rising superstar Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, in which he took the much bigger Mexican the distance. Brook has looked highly impressive in his seven-and-a-half year career, but has not been extended. The thinking behind a matchup with Ricky Hatton’s younger brother was that he would provide the Sheffield man with a stern test and give him chance to show how he can perform when he does not have things all his own way.

This test did not materialise as Brook put on a clinic, dominating Hatton from the first bell to the last. Alvarez has earned rave reviews on the other side of the Atlantic, but the man dubbed ‘Special K’ looked even more impressive and beat Hatton even more convincingly than the Mexican did. The 25 year old utilised his trademark ramrod job to dictate the pace of the fight, keep his more experienced opponent at bay and set up hurtful right hands. Brook simply looked a class above on Saturday night and gave a clear indication that he is operating at a level way above domestic. Now is the time for Brook to be let loose on the division’s elite.

Being a product of Sheffield’s famous Wincobank gym, comparisons with Prince Naseem Hamed are inevitable, but Brook is a very different fighter. He does however have the necessary tools to emulate Naz’s success in the ring. Whilst 18 knockouts in 27 wins shows that Brook can punch, he does not possess the stunning one-punch knockout power that Naseem had and he is nowhere near as arrogant as Hamed. The quick reflexes, however, are there and if anything, Brook is technically superior. He has a exemplary jab that allows him to control fights and he delivers his punches correctly, punching through the target. He times his punches impeccably, particularly when fighting on the back foot and his hand speed is impressive. If there is a criticism, it is that he is open to the overhand right and although he has shown a good set of whiskers to this point, it is something he will want to eradicate as he moves in to a higher class of opposition. It could perhaps also be said that he is sometimes a little one-paced, as was seen against Hatton. It appeared that Brook could have finished the fight within the distance, particularly after flooring the Manchester man in the ninth round but he did not manage to do so. At the highest level, such chances need to be ruthlessly ceased upon.

Kell Brook impressed against Matthew Hatton on Saturday night (This image is the property of Lawrence Lustig)

Brook undoubtedly has the talent and desire to go all the way to the very top and there are currently few better divisions to inhabit than welterweight. The division contains Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Andre Berto, Victor Ortiz and Mike Jones, all of whom have top ten rankings. This means there are plenty of money-spinning and career-defining fights for the Sheffield youngster and whilst he may not yet be ready for Pacquiao or Mayweather, he would stand a very good chance against any one of Berto, Ortiz or Jones. All are aggressive fighters and Brook’s supreme counterpunching ability and perfect timing would leave him well placed to come out on top.

Whether such a fight will come to pass remains to be seen. Jones has a fight with Randall Bailey scheduled for 9th June, whilst Berto and Ortiz face off in a rematch on 23rd June. A fight against Jones (should he come through) or the winner of the latter fight would propel Brook in to boxing’s elite. Jones represents the best option for Brook as he provides a fan-friendly style. His over-zealous attacks leave him open to counter punches and his eagerness to throw punches can lead to him flagging as fights continue beyond the opening rounds. In short, Brook is well equipped to beat the American in an entertaining fight, something which could help make him a star on both sides of the Atlantic.

Brook himself realises that he is now ready to step up to world level and has repeatedly called out fellow Brit Amir Khan. With Khan slated to rematch Lamont Peterson in May, this may have to wait, but the 25 year old from Sheffield is making all the right noises. Frustrated at what he perceived to be a lack of progress, he left Frank Warren’s promotional stable in 2011 and signed with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Sport. Hearn has promised to make Brook a global star. Let’s hope he lives up to his promise because at 25, Brook is reaching his physical peak and is now ready to become the latest in a long line of British world champions.

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Categories: Boxing

Carl Froch: Britain’s Unheralded Superstar

July 17, 2011 Leave a comment

If truth be told, boxing is something of a secondary sport in Britain but sometimes a world class British fighter comes along who transcends the sport and becomes a crossover star. Frank Bruno, Lennox Lewis, Ricky Hatton, Amir Khan, David Haye and Barry McGuigan all fit this description, as do super-middleweights Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank and Joe Calzaghe. But fellow 168 pounder Carl Froch? Not quite. In fact, not even close.

If one looks at this from a purely sporting standpoint, there is no obvious reason why this should be the case. Froch is a two-time (and the current) WBC World Super-Middleweight champion and in a country which enjoys relatively little sporting success, it is astonishing that this fact has been largely ignored by the mainstream media. In terms of boxing ability, Froch is very much worthy of being mentioned in the same breath of the fighters listed above. The Nottingham-born fighter can box technically and to a game plan (as he showed against Arthur Abraham), but he is, at heart, very much a fighter who likes nothing more than a good old-fashioned tear up. Froch’s style is consequently very much a crowd-pleasing one, as anybody who watched his fights against Jean-Pascal and Mikkel Kessler can testify. He has regularly demonstrated a willingness to fight anybody anywhere and his involvement in Showtime’s Super Six tournament has seen him take on Mikkel Kessler in Denmark, Arthur Abraham in Finland and Glen Johnson in the United States. How many other top tier fighters would be prepared to adopt this ‘have gloves will travel’ approach? The level of opposition Froch has faced in the last three years reads like a who’s who of the super-middleweight and light-heavyweight divisions: Jean Pascal, Jermain Taylor, Andre Dirrrell, Mikkel Kessler, Arthur Abraham and Glen Johnson. These fighters have a combined record of 191-19-3. Such high quality opposition over such a long period time is unrivalled in world boxing and with the exception of the Kessler fight; Froch was victorious on each occasion.

Froch in action against Andre Dirrell (This image is the property of AP)

Furthermore, he is an affable, intelligent and articulate man who is happy to appear on television and to talk to his fans. So, in short, here is a likeable, world-class athlete with a crowd-pleasing style that is not even recognised by the majority of the British public? One must therefore ask, what has gone wrong?

As a sport, boxing is somewhat anomalous in that the biggest stars are not necessarily the best exponents of the art. Promotion is the key and if a promoter is able to generate enough hype and get his charge enough television exposure, the fighter in question is half-way to being a star. Add a fan-friendly style to the mix and you have a recipe for fame and fortune, almost regardless of the fighter’s ability. Unfortunately for Froch, he has been criminally under-promoted. From the start of Froch’s professional career in 2002 until earlier this year, the super-middleweight was promoted by Mick Hennessy and whilst Hennessy is highly regarded in the business, he failed to give his stable’s leading light anything like enough media exposure. This was partly the result of bad luck as a deal Hennessy had with ITV collapsed when the network announced that that it was pulling out of boxing, but despite many promises, the promoter never succeeded in getting his charge’s fights screened on Sky Sports. Froch’s fights against Taylor, Dirrell and Kessler were instead shown on backwater PPV channel Primetime, meaning that British fight fans were forced to pay £14.95 for the pleasure of watching on a channel most had never heard of. This inevitably had a detrimental effect on viewing figures and is a reason that Froch is British boxing’s best kept secret.

“Carl Froch is a world-class fighter, yet no one knows
him outside his own living room and that can’t be right.” (Barry Hearn)

After becoming disillusioned with not getting the recognition his accomplishments in the ring merited, Froch decided to cut ties with Hennessy and become self-promoted. In an interview filmed with the BBC shortly after the split was announced, the super-middleweight champion said that he had effectively ‘been self promoted for ages to be honest’ and that he was hopeful of striking a deal with Sky, which he described as ‘the best platform for boxing.’  At the age of 34, Froch does not have a great deal of time left at boxing’s top table and this seems to have dawned on him. By his own admission, ‘not everybody knows who Carl Froch is.’ He obviously felt the need to go his own way in search of the credit he deserves and upon reflection, he appears to have realised that parting ways with Hennessy was necessary. When asked about parting ways with his promoter, Froch said that it ‘went wrong in a lot of areas,’ and that things are now in the hands of lawyers. It does however; seem that the fighter has been vindicated.

His most recent fight, against Glen Johnson, was shown live on Sky Sports and the broadcaster is also the favourite to screen his showdown with American superstar Andre Ward in October. After fighting the man widely regarded as the best super-middleweight in the world, Froch wants to have a big homecoming fight in Nottingham, possibly at his beloved Nottingham Forest’s City Ground. Froch therefore says he wants to speak to a big name promoter about the staging of such of an event and Matchroom Sport’s Barry Hearn has already expressed a keen interest on doing just that. As Hearn himself puts it: ‘Carl Froch is a world-class fighter, yet no one knows him outside his own living room and that can’t be right.’  Here’s hoping that changes before Froch hangs up his gloves.

Categories: Boxing

Wladimir Klitschko vs David Haye: Big Fight Preview

July 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Tonight the Imtech Arena in Hamburg, Germany plays host to the most highly anticipated heavyweight fight in nearly a decade as WBO and IBF champion Wladimir Klitschko takes on Britain’s WBA title holder David Haye. Not since Vitali Klitschko challenged undisputed champion Lennox Lewis way back in June 2003 has the boxing world been so abuzz with excitement at a fight in the sport’s marquee division.

It seems like the pre-fight build up has lasted an eternity. In fact it started more than two years ago when the two signed for a June 2009 fight at Gelsenkirchen’s Veltins Arena. Haye pulled out of that fight citing a back injury, something which Wladimir has doubted in the build-up to tonight’s showdown. It has however, been a blessing in disguise as the fight is now much bigger than it would have been two years ago. Haye is now an established heavyweight with a recognised world title of his own to bring to the party and so what we now have is a genuine unification fight.

Much has been made of Haye’s conduct during the pre-fight media engagements. Violent language, an iphone app which involves punching off the head of an Eastern European giant, t-shirts with severed Klitschko heads and calling the Ukrainian a ‘d!*#head’ on HBO’s Face Off show. None of this has endeared Haye to many people within the sport and if truth be told, the Englishman has come across as childish, uncouth and perhaps a man masking inner doubts with outward bravado. Whatever the case, it has certainly helped generate interest in the fight and Wladimir’s charm offensive and naturally calm demeanour has made him the perfect foil.

However, with the fight only a matter of hours away the talking is nearly done and once the bell rings, it will just be the two men themselves. Sport Report Breaks down their respective strengths and weaknesses.

Tale of the Tape

Wladimir Klitschko (UKR) David Haye (GBR)
Height: 6’6½ (199cm) Height: 6’3 (191cm)
Weight: 243lb (111kg) Weight: 213lb (97.5kg)
Reach: 81’ (205cm) Reach: 78’ (198cm)
Wins: 55 Wins: 25
Losses: 3 Losses: 1
Draws: 0 Draws: 0
KOs: 49 KOs: 23

Wladimir Klitschko

Strengths

  • Hugely experienced. The WBO and IBF champion has been a professional since 1996 and has fought 58 times, 18 of which have been world championship fights.
  • Size. Klitschko has significant height and weight advantages over his opponent and more importantly, he is good enough to make use of them. Klitschko’s trainer and boxing legend Manny Steward was keen to recite the old adage ‘a good big man always beats a good small man.’
  • Jab. The best jab in the business and unlike many fighters who use it simply as a range finder, Klitschko’s is a genuine weapon. Some have called it the hardest jab since Sonny Liston’s.
  • Power. Make no mistake, the Ukrainian can punch. He has stopped nine of his last ten opponents and 49 of his 55 career victories have come inside the distance.

Wladimir Klitschko was much criticised for his safety first approach against Eddie Chambers, but still got the job done by KO (This image is the property of Reuters)

Weaknesses

Chin. Klitschko’s ‘chinnyness’ is well documented and you cannot ignore the fact that all three of his defeats have been inflicted inside the distance. He has been on the canvas on several occasions, most notably in his September 2005 win over Samuel Peter when he touched down three times.

  • Negative mindset. Despite his immense physical skills, Klitschko is prone to self-doubt, probably as a result of past knockout defeats. This manifests itself in a reluctance to engage in the ring. Manny Steward has said that if his charge were more positive, he would be the most dangerous heavyweight in history.  Haye has targeted this, calling the Ukrainian boring. If he opts to stand off tonight, Haye will be able to dictate terms and cause him a huge amount of trouble.

David Haye

Strengths 

  • Power. Like his foe, Haye is a monstrous puncher having won 23 of 25 inside the distance. He has one punch knockout power and seems confident that he will unleash it on Klitschko in tonight’s fight and give himself an early night.
  • Speed. As a former cruiserweight, Haye is small for a heavyweight, but this gives him an advantage in the speed department. Klitschko is much quicker and more mobile than people give him credit for, but there is no doubt that this is the one area in which Haye has a clear advantage.
  • Movement. The WBA champion is quick on his feet and will look to give Klitschko angles. He has used his feet in the past to great effect, most notably in his title-winning fight against Nikolai Valuev when he moved in and out fighting in spurts.

Weaknesses

David Haye is hoping to add the WBO and IBF titles to his WBA belt (This image is the property of Getty Images)

Chin. Much like the man in the opposite corner, Haye does not have a granite chin. He has been on the canvas on numerous occasions in his career and was stopped by Carl Thompson at cruiserweight back in 2004.

  • Stamina. Haye has been known to tire as fights wear on, a consequence of the fact he often finishes people early. He will hope to make sure this is not a factor tonight. If he eats Klitschko’s jab, it will be a long and tiring night for the Londoner.
  • Inexperienced. Haye has never fought anybody of Klitschko’s class. He won his title against a poor champion, and defences against an over-the-hill John Ruiz and a dreadfully poor Audley Harrison offer little in the way of preparation for the big Ukrainian.

The Final Verdict

This is a genuine pick ‘em fight as they say in the industry. Both men are big punchers with questionable chins and so anything can happen. Haye will look to put Klitschko on the back foot early in the hope that it will make him negative. If he is able to do this, he will have a great chance of landing the bingo punch. Klitschko on the other hand will favour a measured approach, utilising his jab to dictate the pace, keep Haye at arm’s length and set up the big right cross which will signal the end of the fight if it lands cleanly. If the fight becomes something of a phoney war, it will suit the WBO and IBF champion down to the ground. He will jab all night if he has too and it is unlikely Haye will get much change out of the judges in Germany unless there is absolute no doubt.

Haye is much smaller than the big Ukrainian and his low slung left hand should be a cause for concern against a big puncher. Haye will have to take the fight to Klitschko if he is to stand any chance of winning and will consequently have to take risks. Klitschko is fast enough and good enough to cash in on this and I just feel he has too many advantages for Haye to overcome.

Sport Report Prediction: Klitschko to win inside the distance

Categories: Boxing

Hang ‘em up Roy, the show’s over

January 2, 2011 Leave a comment

I do not usually write in the first person, but I will make an exception on this occasion as I feel strongly about the issue of boxers continuing to fight well past their sell by dates. In doing so, they put their legacies and, more importantly, their health at risk.

I recently asked a friend and fellow boxing enthusiast who the best boxer he has ever seen is. Without hesitation, the name Roy Jones Jr. rolled off his tongue. Like him, I am too young to have seen the Alis, Leonards and Robinsons of the world whilst they were still fighting and so my friend’s opinion is one I share. It should however be noted that we were very nearly deprived of Jones.

Jones competed for the USA at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. He dazzled the global audience and won the Val Barker Trophy, which is awarded to the best stylistic boxer in the tournament. Unfortunately, the then 19 year-old Jones was the victim of one of boxing’s all-time great injustices. Despite dominating South Korean Park Si-Hun and outlanding him 86-32, the decision went to the hometown fighter leaving the young Jones distraught. Commentators and fighters alike poured scorn on the decision and it was partly responsible for the subsequent introduction of electronic scoring.

After being talked in to not giving up, Jones embarked on a remarkable career. Starting off as a middleweight, the Pensacola native reeled off 17 knockout victories before meeting fellow future great Bernard Hopkins for the IBF Middleweight title in only his 22nd fight. Jones dominated Hopkins for 12 rounds despite breaking a hand and bagged his first world title. After four successful defences, including an impressive sixth round stoppage of the teak-tough Sugar Boy Malinga, Jones stepped up to the Super-Middleweight division to challenge the excellent James Toney for his IBF title. The champion was confident and it was expected to be a close fight. In his career defining fight, Jones embarrassed Toney, flooring him in the third round before winning a landslide.

At 168 pounds, Jones looked super-human and defended his title six times (all inside the distance) before again stepping up, this time to challenge Mike McCallum for the WBC light-heavyweight title. Jones won by wide margins on all three cards to become a three weight world champion. His first defence saw his first defeat as he was disqualified for hitting Montell Griffin whilst he was down. An immediate rematch was arranged and an unusually aggressive Jones came out throwing left hooks, blowing Griffin out inside a round. He then proceeded to dominate the light-heavyweight division for years, defeating the likes of Virgil Hill, David Telesco, Eric Harding, Richard Hall, Julio Cesar Gonzalez and Clinton Woods along the way. Consequently, Jones was criticised for facing what many saw as a poor level of opposition. This was only fair in part as his unbelievable natural talent made some very good fighters look distinctly average. There were however some poor opponents such as New York police officer Ricky Frazier who had no place being in a ring with Jones.

The Jones we see now is a far cry from the one that domiated James Toney in 1994

Having exhausted all avenues in the 175 pound division, Jones took the decision to step up to heavyweight in 2003 and challenge John Ruiz for his WBA Heavyweight title. The much smaller Jones put on a boxing clinic and won easily, becoming the first man since Bob Fitzsimons 106 years earlier to win the middleweight and heavyweight crowns in the process. The man who nearly quit the sport 15 years earlier had not etched his name in to its record books.

I always felt that Jones should have retired at this point as the likes of Lennox Lewis and the Klitschkos were simply too big and strong for him and he had nothing left to prove at the lower weights. He opted however, to go back to light-heavyweight and fight Antonio Tarver and it was here that it all began to unravel.

Jones did not look like his old self and struggled against the unorthodox Tarver, but he managed to dig deep in the championship rounds to eke out a majority decision. Many viewed Jones as fortunate to get the decision and so a rematch was arranged for May 2004. Jones started the fight well, dominating the first round, a round in which Tarver only landed two punches. In round two however, Jones’s career was turned upside down as a huge left hand from Tarver crashed in to his chin and put him on the canvas. He managed to rise to his feet, but with the champion in no fit state to continue, referee Jay Nady stopped the contest. Tarver had shocked the world and Jones had lost his aura of invincibility.

Jones re-entered the ring four months later against Glen Johnson and was once again knocked out, this time in the ninth round. More worryingly, Jones lay on the canvas for three minutes whilst his feet were shaking. This was a warning sign, but one that Jones did not heed.

After taking a year out, Jones squared off in a rubber match against Antonio Tarver and despite putting up a respectable performance, lost by unanimous decision. Roy had clearly lost his lustre and was not the Roy of old, but still, he continued to fight on.

The third Tarver fight was followed by wins over second rate fighters Prince Badi Ajamu and Anthony Hanshaw. This was in turn followed by a fight against a faded, overweight and returning Felix Trinidad. Jones floored the Puerto Rican twice on his way to a straightforward victory that did little to give us the feeling that he was back to his best.

He challenged Joe Calzaghe in November 2008 and was dominated despite having floored the Welshman in the opening round. Jones clearly no longer had everything that made him great but still, he refused to call it a day. 2009 saw TKO victories over Omar Sheika and Jeff Lacy and in the latter, Jones showed flashes of his old brilliance, albeit against a taylor-made opponent. If the old adage that every great champion has one last great fight in him is true, then the Lacy fight was Jones’s.

After being knocked out by Danny Green inside one round in December 2009, Jones pushed on with plans to fight old nemesis Bernard Hopkins in April 2010. It was a dreadful fight between two fighters both past their best and certainly not befitting of two all-time greats. Jones was a shell of his former self, barely throwing a punch in anger and unable to avoid his opponent’s in a way which was once so natural to him.

So why does Jones continue to fight? Some claim that he needs the money following his unsuccessful foray in to the music business, others that he simply cannot live without the sport that has been a part of his life since the age of six. He certainly has nothing left to prove and is only endangering his legacy by continuing to fight. Those of us who remember Jones in his prime making a mockery of all-comers with his blurring speed and sensational reflexes are saddened by his insistence on not retiring. He has worryingly spoken about stepping up to the heavyweight division and challenging David Haye in what would be an incredibly ill-advised challenge for the WBA title he held nearly eight years ago. Roy no longer has the ability to perform in the way he once could and if he is waiting for it to come back, he will have to wait a long time. Boxing is littered with fighters who went on too long and Jones is in danger of becoming yet another, so I say ‘Please Roy, if you know what is good for you, hang ‘em up, the show’s over.’

Categories: Boxing

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

November 16, 2010 Leave a comment

This Saturday passed (November 13th) was a big night in the boxing world as the world’s number one boxer fought for a world title in an unprecedented eighth weight class, one of the sport’s top prospects took on a tough opponent and there was the matter of a world heavyweight title fight between two Englishmen for the first time since Lennox Lewis took on Frank Bruno back in 1993. On the face of it, this should have been a great night for the sport to show the best it has to offer but what we got was very much a mixed bag.

The Good

What more can one say about Manny Pacquiao? The so-called ‘Mexecutioner’ added the name of Antonio Margarito to those of Juan Manuel Marquez, Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera on his list of Mexican victims. Many had speculated before the fight that the Pacman had moved up one weight class too far this time. Margarito, who was much bigger and supposedly physically stronger than the Filipino, was looking to restore his reputation following last year’s loaded hand wraps scandal. The size difference was evident at Friday’s weigh in as Margarito weighed in bang on the agreed catchweight of 150 lbs whilst Pacquiao came in at a comparatively light 144.6 lbs. By fight night, this had turned in to 17 lbs weight advantage for the Mexican.

Margarito was relentlessly battered for 12 rounds (This image is the property of SBnation)

Once the opening bell rang, it quickly became apparent that the size difference was a complete non-factor as Pacquiao used his superior speed and accuracy to pepper the Tijuana Tornado with a dazzling array of punches. For 12 rounds Pacquiao hammered the Mexican, who was never in the fight and in truth, either referee Laurence Cole or Margarito’s trainer Robert Garcia should have ended the fight earlier.  In fact, Pacquiao himself pleaded with Cole to end it in round 11. Margarito’s bravery may be commendable but he should have been saved from himself as he was being pummelled relentlessly for 12 rounds. By the end of the fight, his face was so full of blood it resembled a butcher’s apron and the reading of the scorecards was merely a formality as Pacquiao won by scores of 120-108, 119-109 and 118-110.

Pacquiao again looked sensational as he dominated a much larger opponent who was supposed to give him serious problems and the question now is where does he go from here? The obvious answer is a showdown with fellow megastar Floyd Mayweather Jr, but Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach has stated that unless Mayweather comes to the table quickly, he thinks Manny may call it a day. He does not need the money, his legacy is secure and unlike many boxers he has something else to focus on as Congressman of Sarangani Province in his native Philippines. Saturday may very well have been Pacquiao’s final fight.

 The Bad

The undercard of the Pacquiao fight provided the ‘bad’ element of the night. First of all, former undisputed Middleweight king Kelly Pavlik’s planned fight with Brian Vera fell through. Pavlik has not looked the same since Bernard Hopkins schooled him in October 2008 and whilst the official reason given for his absence from Saturday’s card was a rib injury, rumours (unsubstantiated I must add) persist that he is facing the toughest fight of his career – versus the bottle. For the sake of boxing, let’s hope Pavlik sorts out whatever issues he may have as he is an exciting and affable fighter, something which boxing certainly needs.

Then there was the issue of the scoring in the Mike Jones-Jesus Soto Karass fight. As the house fighter, it is not a surprise that Jones got the decision in a close fight, but what fight was Sergio Caiz watching to score it 97-93? This score is way out of line with what happened. Furthermore, Gale E. Van Hoy of Juan Diaz-Paulie Malignaggi fame managed to score the fight a draw at 94-94. As Jason Pribila pointed out in his piece for Secondsout.com, something just does not stack up in what was a 10 must system. To quote Pribila directly: “He scored the fight even, which was perfectly acceptable. However, under a 10-point must system, I can’t figure out how he turned in a score of 94-94. Jones assaulted Soto Karass in round two, but the Mexican survived and threw enough punches back to avoid a 10-8 round. However, there was not a moment in the fight where Jones came close to losing a point.” Yet another scoring mystery in Texas. It is about time these people were relieved of their duties as judges.

The Ugly

The Ugly unfortunately occurred in my beloved hometown of Manchester, England where WBA Heavyweight champion David Haye defended his title against fellow Englishman Audley Harrison. Where do I start with this?

Before the fight, Frank Bruno and Lennox Lewis got in to the ring to address the crowd and in truth, a fight between those two in their suits would have been better value for £15 PPV money than what Haye and Harrison served up.

I like David Haye. He is a bit too mouthy at times but he is an extremely talented and exciting boxer capable of injecting some much needed character and excitement in to a drab heavyweight division. However, if Audley Harrison is as terrible and deluded as Haye told us for the two months leading up to the fight, why was he fighting him and asking us to pay £15 for the ‘privilege’? What makes this even more baffling/annoying is the fact that I was then able to watch Pacquiao-Margarito on non-PPV (Sky Sports in England).

The fact is that Audley Harrison was never good enough to challenge for a world title and nothing in his professional record ever suggested otherwise. The only time he had fought anybody remotely close to world class (Dominick Guinn), he lost convincingly. I do not like to question a man’s heart when he is prepared to step between the ropes as I do not have the guts to do it, but Audley is not a fighter. We saw this on Saturday as he completely froze and seemingly refused to fight. With the exception of Jimmy Thunder’s first punch knockout of Crawford Grimsley in 1997, I cannot recall ever seeing a boxer fail to land one meaningful punch in a fight (Harrison landed ONE jab in nearly eight minutes) and I certainly cannot remember seeing a referee have to tell boxers to start fighting as Luis Pabon did on Saturday.

WBA Heavweight Champion David Haye lands a straight right (This image is the property of AP)

Whilst Harrison may not be a world-class boxer, he is most definitely a world-class salesman as he had the nation believing (despite its better knowledge) that this was going to be a genuinely competitive fight. It was anything but. Haye did not throw a punch in anger until round 3 and when he did, it rocked ‘A-Force’ to the core and the following four punches caused Harrison to hit the canvas. I applaud him for rising to his feet as he could easily have stayed down, but once he rose it was always only going to be a matter of time. That time was seconds as Haye rained in more punches and Pabon mercifully ended the contest. The fight had been an embarrassment to the billing ‘World Heavyweight Title Fight’ and the fans made their feelings clear (before starting a rendition of ‘you’re s**t and you know you are.’)

Harrison stated after the fight that he needs to consider his future now, let’s hope he makes the right decision and hangs them up. His abject showing on Saturday will mean that he is not exactly a fighter that everyone will be rushing to see. He has to stop living off the memory of his gold medal in Sydney and realise that professional boxing is not for him. He had huge reach, height and weight advantages over Haye and despite this being by far the biggest fight of his career, the best he could muster was one solitary jab. Please call it a day Audley.

As for Haye, he has constantly criticised the Klitschkos’ choice of opponents and whilst he does have a point, it is merely a case of the pot calling the kettle black after this farce. Haye could have tried to arrange a fight against somebody like Alexander Povetkin, Tomasz Adamek or Ruslan Chagaev but instead opted for Audley Harrison. The public will not put up with paying for similar fare again and so the pressure is now on Haye to make a fight against either Wladimir or Vitali Klitschko.

Contract negotiations are complex and so it is probably unfair to lay all the blame at Haye’s door for the lack of a unification fight to this point, but whatever the case, it needs to happen next year because the likes of what we saw on Saturday are killing the sport. Manny Pacquiao has almost single-handedly kept boxing in the mainstream sports news in recent years so if he does choose to permanently swap the gloves for a shirt and tie, boxing really will need Haye and the Klitschkos to step up to the plate.

Categories: Boxing

The third man is the most important man in the ring

October 19, 2010 3 comments

Boxing is an inherently dangerous sport, after all the aim is to hit another man as hard as you can until he can take no more. At its finest it is an art form, a sweet science, and those fortunate enough to have witnessed the Sugar Rays; Muhammad Ali and Roy Jones Jr. in their primes will not disagree. However at its most base level, it is brutal and, as Chris Eubank delighted in telling us, “a barbaric sport.”

Although they are rare, injuries suffered by the likes of Gerald McClellan and Michael Watson do occur and a few boxers, such as Duk Koo Kim and Johnny Owen are unfortunate enough to lose their lives. Boxing is a very serious and potentially life-threatening business and it is for this reason that that one man in the ring does not wear gloves. His job title? Referee. His job? To do everything he can to make sure a fighter is able to leave the ring under his own steam.

While referees do a sterling job most of the time, there are occasions when one asks oneself: “what is the referee doing?” Unfortunately 2010 has seen two instances of gross incompetence in big world title fights.

The first came courtesy of Arthur Mercante Jr. during the Yuri Foreman-Miguel Cotto fight back in June. Foreman came in to the ring with his right knee heavily strapped and so it was clear that there was some kind of issue with it. In round seven, we found out what it was as his knee gave way from under the Israeli. He rose to his feet but was clearly in pain. To be fair to Mercante, Foreman still looked game but his response of: “come on suck it up kid,” sounded more like an annoying pushy father than a professional boxing referee. The knee gave way a second time in the same round leading HBO commentators Roy Jones Jr. and Jim Lampley to proclaim that the fight was as good as over. Wrong. Foreman again rose to his feet and Mercante could not usher him back in quickly enough. For those who may not be aware, Foreman is a very mobile fighter dependent on his footwork or, as Jim Lampley so succinctly phrased it: “Foreman without legs is like Cotto without fists.” Consequently he took a series of short, jolting punches from the Puerto Rican before the bell sounded to end the round.

The real drama however, unfolded in round eight. Foreman’s knee locked again and he was clearly in no fit state to continue. Seeing this, his corner threw in the towel. Mercante however, refused to acknowledge it (as is his right) claiming that Foreman was game and that he did not know who had thrown the towel. The fight had now officially turned in to a farce. Sure Foreman looked game but he is a fighter with a warrior’s heart. He knows no quit so his corner tried to quit for him. Mercante had other ideas and ordered the fight to continue despite Foreman’s trainer Joe Greer entering the ring (which should have been an automatic disqualification). So, Foreman, who is training to be a Rabbi in his spare time, was left to be a sitting duck for a round longer until one of the most feared punches in boxing, Cotto’s left hook to the body, put everyone out of their misery. It was a shot Foreman need not have taken, in fact he took punches for two rounds that he should not have had to. Fortunately, the only lasting damage done was to the reputations of the sport and Arthur Mercante Jr.

Fast forward four months or so to the Vitali Klitschko-Shannon Briggs fight in Hamburg. England’s Ian John Lewis was the man in the ring on this occasion. It must be said at this point that Lewis is a first rate referee who has performed admirably on many occasions, but this Saturday passed (16th October), he got it badly wrong.

Klitschko comfortably pocketed the first four rounds behind a stiff jab but the problems for Ian John Lewis started in the fifth. It was in this round that Klitschko began to land his trademark booming right cross on the face of his American challenger at will. This continued in to round six, when he also began to bring the left hand in to play. By the end of the round, his jab, jab, cross approach was as successful as it was relentless. Briggs was stunned half way through the seventh before a monstrous right hand at the end of the round had him walking in circles and sagging on the ropes. Luckily for the American (or unluckily as may actually be the case), the bell sounded, saving him from an almost certain knockout.

Shannon Briggs (right) was made to take much more punishment than was necessary on Saturday night. (This image is the property of Reuters)

The Brooklyn native emerged for round eight and the systematic beating continued. Very little was coming back from Briggs and with Klitschko having won every round up to that point, Briggs needed a sensational knockout that never looked like coming. Round nine saw the giant Ukrainian wobble Briggs again and although the referee took a close look at Briggs on more than one occasion, he still somehow did not deem the fight worthy of a stoppage. Sure Briggs had not hit the canvas, but he was taking big shot after big shot from a 240 lbs plus monster without throwing much back. The fight needed to be stopped to save the American from unnecessary punishment. It was not and the last three rounds followed the same pattern with two huge right hooks from Klitschko nearly putting Briggs to sleep in the 12th and final round.

Klitschko unsurprisingly pitched a shutout to retain his WBC Heavyweight strap, but Briggs was too brave for his own good and should have been saved from himself in the eighth or ninth round at the latest. Ian John Lewis failed the fighter on this occasion (although some blame should be apportioned to Briggs’s corner for not pulling their man out) and Briggs wound up in hospital nursing a torn bicep; broken nose and, rather painfully, a broken orbital bone. All one can say is thank God his CT scan did not show up any abnormalities.

In both of these fights, boxers had to take far more punishment than was necessary as the referee failed in his duty to ensure the safety of both boxers as much as he can. These are unfortunately not isolated incidents, just the most high profile examples and as long as such incompetence continues, there will always be the risk of another Gerald McClellan or Johnny Owen. The referee is the most important man in the ring, sometimes he would do well to remember that.

Categories: Boxing

Don King: The Man, the Myth, the Legend

October 3, 2010 Leave a comment

Don King; DK; The Shock Haired One. Whatever you may choose to call him, Don King is the most recognisable face in the sport of boxing. During his 38 years in boxing, King has blazed a trail. He has promoted over 500 world championship fights; paid 100 boxers $1million or more for a single fight; promoted or co-promoted seven of the top ten PPV events by total buys; become the first promoter to sell a fight to a prime-time TV network for $1 million & $2 million and put on the fight with the largest ever live gate. Much is said about King, some of it true, some of it not. Sport Report takes a closer look at the grand old man of boxing promotion.

The Man

Donald King was born in Cleveland, Ohio on August 31st 1931 into a working-class family. He lost his father at a young age when he died in a work-related accident, at which point his mother moved the family to a middle-class neighbourhood.

As a teenager, King became involved with gambling rackets, first working for other runners, then establishing himself as the most successful runner in Cleveland. King was accepted to Kent State University, but opted instead to focus on business ventures. This proved to be a good decision as King continued to make money, cruising round in flashy cars and wearing the latest fashions.

Things took a turn for the worse in 1954 when King ran in to his first legal troubles. King caught a man named Hillary Brown trying to rob one of his business properties and shot him. Brown died and King found himself facing a murder case. The shooting was deemed to be a justifiable homicide and King was free to continue his business activities. Thirteen years later however, King found himself in serious trouble with the law. King entered a gambling house and saw Sam Garrett, a former employee who reputedly owed King $600 and so King attacked him. Garrett died from his injuries. Witness accounts vary, with some saying it was a sustained beating intended to kill Garrett, while others said King had acted in self-defence. King once again found himself accused of murder and was found guilty. However, the presiding judge reduced the charge to manslaughter and so King served only four years at Marion Correctional Institute in Ohio. While in prison, King focussed on improving his level of education, reading much material from literary classics to philosophy.

Controversy seems to have followed the world’s most famous boxing promoter almost anywhere he has been and King has seen almost as much action in the courtroom as he has in the ring. In 1984, the IRS filed suit against him claiming tax fraud and although one of his associates was jailed, King was acquitted. In 1992, following evidence gathered during an FBI investigation, he was quizzed about his alleged involvement with known Mafiosi such as John Gotti. He pleaded the Fifth Amendment. A further case was brought in 1998 by insurance company Lloyd’s of London, which claimed that King had defrauded it of $350,000 in relation to a cancelled Julio Cesar Chavez fight in 1991.

Then there is the list of charges brought against King by boxers. In 1980, Muhammad Ali sued king for $1.2 million for underpaying him for a fight versus Larry Holmes, but settled out of court for a meagre $50,000. Tim Witherspoon successfully sued King for $900,000 and Terry Norris settled out of court for $7.5 million in a breach of contract case. In September 2009, Nicaraguan wild man Ricardo Mayorga filed a case alleging that King had failed to arrange fights for him. However, without doubt the most famous case came from Mike Tyson who described King as: “a wretched, slimy, reptilian motherfucker, and “a bad man, a real bad man. He would kill his own mother for a dollar. He’s ruthless, he’s deplorable and he doesn’t know how to love anybody.” Tyson believing he had been cheated out of large sums of money by his former promoter, sued for £100 million but eventually settled for $14 million.

Many things in the world of Don King may be shades of grey and somewhat murky, but one thing is crystal clear, nothing is boring when the man known as DK is around.

The Myth

Don King’s flamboyant and outspoken personality means that everyone has an opinion of the man. One commonly held opinion of King is that of a clueless clown who has achieved all he has through skulduggery. Sure, he talks too much and his hair looks like he is permanently connected to a van der Graaff generator. He carries around little flags on sticks and pointlessly quotes verses from the Bible, but a clueless clown Don King is not.

The man has been at the top of the boxing game for over 30 years now and that is no accident. He has been both shrewd and ruthless in equal measure, but what really sets King apart from his counterparts is his fearlessness. DK always backs himself to ‘pull it off,’ a prime example being the Rumble in the Jungle, which will be discussed later. This brash confidence, combined with a willingness to tread on other people’s toes and excellent business acumen, have made King the king of boxing promotion.

The Legend

Whatever your opinion of Don King, it cannot be disputed that he is one of the most famous faces in boxing. Throughout his illustrious career, King has promoted some of the greatest fighters ever to grace a ring including: Muhammad Ali; Joe Frazier; Larry Holmes; Roberto Duran; Mike Tyson; Evander Holyfield; Julio Cesar Chavez; Bernard Hopkins; Felix Trinidad; Marco Antonio Barrera and Roy Jones Jr.

His career in boxing began in 1972 when he convinced Muhammad Ali to take part in a boxing exhibition in aid of a local hospital in Cleveland, but the making of King came just two years later when he fended off a whole host of rivals to secure promotional rights to the highly anticipated George Foreman-Muhammad Ali fight. King was still a relative newcomer to the fight game at this point, but was able to achieve this by offering a previously unheard of fight purse of $10 million. Many were baffled as to how King was able to fund this and some even speculated that he secured the fight first and then worried about how he was going to pay for it. King eventually struck a deal with the government in Zaire and the fight was held in Kinshasa, hence the name Rumble in the Jungle. Whatever King’s methods were, he delivered and the fight became the stuff of folklore as the underdog Ali went on to beat the previously undefeated Foreman by 8th round stoppage.

King cemented his position as the pre-eminent promoter of the time a year later when he put on the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier rematch. King took the fight to the Philippines and dubbed it The Thriller in Manila. The fight was one of the greatest the heavyweight division had ever seen and Don King Promotions (DKP) had once again delivered the goods.

With his status as the heavyweight division’s leading promoter all but secure, King began to branch out in to lower weight classes by signing the likes of Roberto Duran; Salvador Sanchez; Wilfred Benitez and Alexis Arguello.

The 1980s saw the heyday of Mike Tyson, as the Brooklyn native smashed his way to the undisputed heavyweight championship. Inevitably, it was King that oversaw this meteoric rise and made a fortune doing so. Tyson was King’s cash cow and this, coupled with King’s hold over fighters such as Terry Norris; Aaron Pryor; Meldrick Taylor and Julio Cesar Chavez, made King the most influential promoter in the sport. As if that were not enough, he went outside of boxing and promoted the Jacksons’ reunion tour in 1984.

The King-Tyson partnership eventually ended in acrimony (as mentioned above) but King powered on in to the 1990s, promoting the likes of Gerald McClellan; Marco Antonio Barrera and his new superstar, Felix ‘Tito’ Trinidad.

Don King continued to be a major player in boxing in to the new millennium and although his influence has waned as the likes of Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions have taken over as the major players, he has still had recent world champions such as Nikolai Valuev; Ricardo Mayorga; Cory Spinks and Marco Antonio Barrera.

The intriguing story with King is this: is he, at the grand old age of 79, about to regain his place as boxing promotion’s top dog? Maybe. He was spotted at Cory Spinks’ fight in August sat next to current pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather and rumours have since been rife that the two are keen to work together. First Floyd must do what King has done expertly on several occasions and beat the law, but if he does and King can then deliver what nobody else has been able to, a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, his legend will grow further still. Given King’s track record of ‘getting it done,’ it may not be as ridiculous as it seems.

Categories: Boxing